The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date:
Length: 512 pages
Literary Fiction

CW: n/a

Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.

A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea. 



I had seen several people talk about this book and I was very intrigued, especially after reading the description. After only a few pages it became quickly apparent that this book was going to make it onto my favourites list. 

Simply put, I adored every single character in this novel. Zachary was a fantastic protagonist and incredibly likeable. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that his passion was for video games and books. I can’t remember the last time I related so much to a protagonist! I especially loved his geeky references to games scattered through the novel (“It’s dangerous to go alone” earned several snorts from me in particular). Mirabel and Dorian were great companions for his journey too. Each of their personalities were so different and unique to them, yet they all meshed perfectly. I would have loved to have seen more of Dorian in the novel, however that is me being greedy rather than an actual issue that I had with the novel. 

The narrative of this novel was masterfully done, I experienced many ‘penny drop’ moments which made the general experience of reading The Starless Sea incredibly satisfying on several levels. I loved how the novel was broken up into parts and how each part incorporated a different book from the library. The jumping between what is happening in the present and what was written in the stories was brilliantly done and were also woven together seamlessly. The variations in the sentence structures in all of these sections too also made the novel a joy to read and deepened the meanings behind the words. You could tell Morgenstern had carefully crafted this novel and a lot of thought went into each word. There was even a lyrical quality to the way the novel read, which I particularly enjoyed. 

It goes without saying at this point, as you can clearly see from the way that I am gushing over this novel how much I enjoyed it. This is definitely a novel that I will be re-reading as I was genuinely sad when I had finished it as I didn’t know what to do with myself afterwards, I felt at a loss (but in a good way). If this book hasn’t already made it onto your shelves (either read or unread), I implore you to add it. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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3 thoughts on “The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

  1. Great review of this book – I agree with many of your thoughts. I think it will make a good book to reread also, because I think there will be even more detail and finer points that weren’t apparent when first reading. I just love Erin Morgenstern’s writing.


  2. I also finished Starless Sea recently, but my experience was quite different, I think. I really loved The Night Circus, and was very excited for Morgenstern’s next book. Like you, I really loved the characters, especially Zachary, and was a big fan of the video game references. However, I had some issues (for one, I couldn’t get my head around the honey – sure, it links to the bees, but honey is just sticky and impractical). I’m not sure the story actually wanted to be a book – there were so many references to interactive and digital storytelling, and moments which would have been perfect in a videogame (like rolling the dice), and I finished the book feeling like perhaps I’d rather have played through Kat’s final project than read Morgenstern’s book.
    All that being said, I am looking forward to rereading the book, as I’m sure I’ll find so many connections, motifs and the like which I didn’t pick up on first time around!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aah, see I’ve never read The Night Circus so this was my first experience with Morgenstern’s writing but I do have a few friends that, even though they really liked The Starless Sea they preferred The Night Circus (so, clearly, I need to get a move on and read that one!). I never really thought about how impractical honey would be, you’re very right, I just don’t tend to question things too much when it’s magic realism haha! I totally see where you’re coming from with the digital storytelling aspect – I would also LOVE to play through Kat’s final project, that would be such a cool way to experience the book!

      Yeah, I definitely this is the type of book that will either make more sense the second time around or you’ll pick up on a lot more as you’re not as focused on the mystery as you already know what happens! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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